We have just passed the middle point of our journey, where we are like a ship at sea, with no more sight of the shore behind us as the one at our journey’s end. Only the steady knowledge that we are on our way home.
The first three months felt like an adventure, where even the difficult parts felt like something we could solider through with the resources at hand. These second three months has been an adjustment. That which serves us well shines brighter and bolsters our confidence in what we are capable of: the trip planning, the education we’re giving our kids, and the renewed appreciation Janet and I have for one another, to name a few.
It is also the point in our journey when we can no longer shroud uncomfortable truths with familiar routines and memories of what worked at home. I’ve come face-to-face with my shortcomings and shame over things I wish I had handled better: showing more grace towards my loved ones here and afar amidst the stress of being a stranger in a strange land, demonstrating greater accountability for harm I’ve caused them, and finding more self-compassion for stepping away from unhealthy relationships and taking care of myself when I’ve needed to.
I am not the same person that I was when I left Seattle, and on a journey like this, there is no going back to who I was. And for that matter, though it is “only” a year, so too have changed my friends and communities back home. I fully expected myself to change, and for them to change, and yet somehow naively assumed that the ties that bind us would not.
An article I’ve long enjoyed reads, “As I get older — I’ll be 38 in a few days — I’ve noticed several things about friendships: they’re harder to make and keep as your life fills with more responsibilities; friends’ support is more important as your life fills with more demands, challenges and successes to celebrate; the best friends aren’t necessarily the ones you’ve known the longest or have the most fun partying with, but are the ones who SHOW UP. Showing up is THE single most important thing you can do as a friend.“*
My friends’ babies are turning into toddlers, new lovers are coming into their lives, old ones are exiting, traumas are being born and broken… all kinds of profound, meaningful moments. And I haven’t been able to show up for them, not in the way I want to or expect of myself.
Before I left, one of the people that I love most in this world expressed to me that although she fully supports what I’m doing with my family, she could not help but feel abandoned. And when conflict arose while I was in the middle of Africa not fully resourced emotionally or physically, I hurt her terribly and made a mess of things. I will have to live with that mistake for the rest of my life.
Conversely, I have been surprised at how the distance has spawned new connections and community. Old friends that I’m ashamed to say I took somewhat for granted have been a lifeline amidst some of the most stressful travel moments when we’ve struggled to meet basic Maslow’s heirarchy needs for ourselves and our children. And some that I would not have expected to show much compassion or take an interest in our journey have surfaced.
A recent study** found that people who have lived abroad for an extended period of time have a better sense of self and the world than when they lived at home. Or at the very least, a changed perspective. I’ve had to face some unpleasant aspects of myself and commit myself to a path of change. With an outsider’s perspective, I’ve also gained a newfound appreciation what my communities at home do really, really well. And what they do not, in ways that are toxic and not as obvious from within.
Amidst such change from both ends, it is no wonder that my connection to home is evolving so much. It’s been impossible for me to predict how and with whom these changes are occuring. But I’m grateful for all of it. I’m finding my peace to let go of what was, and to find encouragement with those who share my curiosity in exploring where the next five months and beyond will take us.
At journey’s end, I don’t expect much to look like it did at the beginning, and that’s a good thing.